Monday, April 1, 2013


Vacationland by Sarah Stonich
University of Minnesota Press, 4/1/2013
Paperback, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780816687664
On a lake in northernmost Minnesota, you might find Naledi Lodge—only two cabins still standing, its pathways now trodden mostly by memories. And there you might meet Meg, or the ghost of the girl she was, growing up under her grandfather’s care in a world apart and a lifetime ago. Now an artist, Meg paints images “reflected across the mirrors of memory and water,” much as the linked stories of Vacationland cast shimmering spells across distance and time.
Those whose paths have crossed at Naledi inhabit Vacationland: a man from nearby Hatchet Inlet who knew Meg back when, a Sarajevo refugee sponsored by two parishes who can’t afford “their own refugee,” aged sisters traveling to fulfill a fateful pact once made at the resort, a philandering ad man, a lonely Ojibwe stonemason, and a haiku-spouting girl rescued from a bog.
Sarah Stonich, whose work has been described as “unexpected and moving” by the Chicago Tribune and “a well-paced feast” by the Los Angeles Times, weaves these tales of love and loss, heartbreak and redemption into a rich novel of interconnected and disjointed lives. Vacationland is a moving portrait of a place—at once timeless and of the moment, composed of conflicting dreams and shared experience—and of the woman bound to it by legacy and sometimes longing, but not necessarily by choice.

My Thoughts:

I loved Vacationland by Sarah Stonich. Vacationland is a collection of 15 interrelated stories that all share a connection to Naledi Lodge on Little Hatchet Lake on the laurentian divide in Minnesota. It was a summer resort, dubbed "vacationland" years ago, but cabins have disappeared and it is now a private home. Naledi Lodge was built and ran by Czech immigrant Vaclav Machutova for many years during its prosperity.  Meg , his granddaughter, spent summers there and winters in Chicago boarding schools after her parents are killed in an airplane crash. Now Meg is an artist who makes Naledi her home. 
Stonich's writing is impeccable. Each story could stand alone but together they made a beautiful descriptive symphony. It was a serenade of emotive descriptions. I love all of Stonich's descriptions of the settings in Vacationland. They are simultaneously seductive, but spiritual; atmospheric yet pungent. I could feel everything -  the bitter cold, and then the scorching heat and biting black flies. I could smell the woods, feel the weather, experience and appreciate the environment and terrain like a local.
I appreciated the portrayal of her characters just as much. They were all handled with such empathy and humanity as their struggles were slowly revealed. Each of them has a unique, individual voice. They are complex, fully realized characters. As a summer resort worker many years ago, I knew many of these people - the dismissive summer people, the reticent terse locals, the old men drinking coffee. I understand the difference between the people who just visit briefly and those who stay.
Separation: A scene with Meg, as an adult and prominent artist, after her dog brings home an unpleasant surprise.
Reparation: An man recalls an affair he had at Naledi with another guest.
Destination:  Adult sisters recall an euthanasia promise they made to each other when young. 
Assimilation: A Balkan refugee struggles to assimilate into the community.
Moderation: A counselor at a rehab clinic deals with his angry, aging father
Navigation:  A young girl gets lost when visiting her great grandmother's cabin.
Calculation: A young couple wants to start a family.
Echolocation: An American Indian man finds his way after a life changing event in a changing community.
Omission: Aging, long time resident of Little Hatchet Lake, Ursa Olson, struggles to remain self-reliant.
Orientation: Meg's aunt and cousin delivers her mother's ashes.
Disembarkation: Meg's parents die in a plane crash.
Hesitation: A science professor and soon-to-be writer, Polly, stays at Naledi when Vaclav nears the end of his life.
Approximation: Polly's childhood and life before Naledi.
Occlusion: Meg and her elderly surrogate grandmother, Polly, at Nadeli.
Tintinnabulation: Meg reflects on her life as an artist to a student reporter

I loved this collection.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My Kindle advanced reading edition was courtesy of the University of Minnesota Press via Netgalley for review purposes.

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

Interesting premise, and a great title.